It all starts with the recorder

The new school year will begin soon in South Africa and so will recorder lessons. To the joy of some and to the annoyance of others perhaps, but in the end it will have a positive effect on all. Today, on national recorder day, we take a look at the story behind the perfect instrument for young learners.

A minister is called to assist during a divine service in a New Apostolic congregation in South Africa. Instead of the choir getting ready to sing, the children of the congregation scurry forward with a recorder in one hand and the Bright and Beautiful children’s hymn collection in the other. Finally, they are all lined up. The sound is what it is when a whole bank of soprano recorders plays at once. But nobody minds because the children are so proud and happy. They are part of a community where everyone is equally important, regardless of age or social background.

The picture is very similar in all the congregations in the Regional Church of Southern Africa on this Sunday. In every congregation that has children, they come forward when a minister is called to assist to play the same song—whether the congregation is large or small, has a beautiful pipe organ in a modern church building or comes together for divine services under a tree.

Getting in the swing of things for the Chief Apostle’s visit

Recorders have existed in New Apostolic churches in South Africa since at least the 1970s. When the Chief Apostle then announced his visit to the country in 2019, it was clear to the Church’s music department in South Africa: “We wanted to make the Chief Apostle’s visit as exciting as possible.” This is what Clarke Schilder reports, who works for the music department. So he and his colleagues bought about 20,000 recorders and he created a beginner’s guide to help children learn to play the recorder, and you could buy the two as a combo package for a small fee. They also created videos with the individual lessons and played them on NACTV and on YouTube, and in the divine service on 11 July 2019 the children delighted the Chief Apostle with recorder music.

The job of Clarke Schilder and his colleagues is to make sure that every congregation is functional in terms of music. And that is a big challenge because the composition of the congregations is very diverse. Sometimes congregations have a large choir and many organists, while other congregations do not even have an organ. Some do not even have electricity. The recorder can be played anywhere, it is easy to play, and does not need electricity. “This recorder project, I think, is a great way of achieving the goal because it is open to all the children in the Regional Church, whether they live in a rich or poor neighbourhood,” Clarke says. And there is another reason: “If we already foster an interest when the children start Sunday School, we can get them excited about the Lord’s work and to love His work. That is what we want to cultivate: the love to be in God’s house, to sing, to honour, and praise His name.

When talented children become successful musicians

At the end of January, the project will start all over: the new school year will start and the recorder lessons will resume on NACTV. In many places, joint rehearsals then also take place, depending on the local conditions. Clarke and his colleagues are also happy to help organise professional teachers for schools and other facilities.

Because one thing is clear: “Some of our professional musicians also started out on the recorder,” Clarke says. For example, Brandon Phillips. The 43-year-old was principal bassoonist of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and artistic director, and conductor of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra until his appointment of winds and ensembles lecturer at UCT from the beginning of this year. When he started playing the recorder at the age of about nine, however, he was not so enthusiastic at first: “My father actually made me play the recorder,” he says. But today he is grateful to his parents: “The recorder was basically my introduction to the world of music. Without it I would not have had the success I do today.” When he learned to play the other recorders as well, and the trumpet, violin, and viola on top, Clarke Schilder, among others, recognised that he had his musical talent. And was able to encourage the young musicians at an early stage.

That is why Clarke believes it is so important today to identify young talent early and encourage it. The Covid pandemic has pretty much stifled the development. But now the music department wants to resume the programme and also promote singing, among other things. “We always try to create platforms for our children to perform,” Clarke says. That is why twice a month it is the children’s turn, and the plan going forward is set: one week they will sing, the other week they will play.

A friend who does not fight back

“I think music has so many benefits,” Clarke Schilder says. “Introverts come out of their shells and become more sociable. And music also helps you with your school work.” And not only with reading, also with math. “And then music brings about a sense of calm. Like I said, the recorder does not need anything to power it. You simply blow into the instrument and there’s a sound. If anyone upsets you, you can go into your room and play your instrument. The recorder is a friend that doesn’t fight back.”

That is why many children don’t feel like Brandon Phillips, who ran to his first recorder lesson with tears in his eyes because he would rather have played soccer. “A teacher told me a beautiful story,” Clarke says. “"Rehearsals are on Friday afternoon because there is no school the next day. When she gets to church on a Friday afternoon, no matter how early, the children are always already at the church waiting for their lesson to start.”


Photo: NAC Southern Africa

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